It is a particular kind of devastating phenomenon, losing a love. It is even more particular to lose the first young and distinctly queer love—the kind of love you’re taught, as a queer youth, you might never have. It is akin to a record-breaking natural disaster; to climate change and sociopolitical shifts.

Furthermore, scarcity works differently for queers; the lineage and subculture is rooted in loss (the AIDS crisis, the murders of LGBTQ people) and trauma (a marginalized experience, potential expulsion from family-of-origin). And so how does a writer tackle this largess of difficulty and scarcity? And how does one do so while also balancing the heartbreaking beauty of first love, of reciprocated intimacy?

The answer is that there is no exact formula; good writing lives on the border of these two lands, with one foot on each side. As nebulous as that challenge may be, Cassie Pruyn has triumphed with Lena, the 2017 Walt McDonald Series First Book Award from Texas Tech University Press. Harmonizing a round-robin of the illicit and poignant, Pruyn creates resounding poems that beautifully explore themes of love and loss.

The poems are strong and quiet, enacting the experience of something transcendental, both in the sense of transcending the physical, and in the celebration of the hushed bucolic. The sea often serves as the medium: “where nervous at first/she would soon taste the salt of the sea lapping/against the damp-dark hull of the boat” (“Lena’s Summer House in Rockport”).

And these poems succeed in ecstasy despite (or maybe radically because of) the baseline of secrecy. In the forward by Rachel Mennies, the collection is lauded for highlighting the sometimes crucial necessity of sneaking around while in the throes of queer passion—the temporality of love lived in the backseats of cars and the various insights these cloaks of secrecy produce.

 

Lena
By Cassie Pruyn
Texas Tech University Press
Hardcover, 9780896729988, 277 pp.
April 2017



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